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By John MacGougan

IR Rating:
Fast-paced storytelling, a satisfying secondary plot, textured descriptions of places and livelihoods, and an irresistibly entertaining minor character are among the strengths outweighing the warts and shortcomings in John MacGougan's THE TEQUILA PROMISE.
In this second entry of the Charlie Beach Series, the body of a beloved friend is found near his battered car off the side of a windy road.

In THE TEQUILA PROMISE, the second title in John MacGougan’s Charlie Beach Series, Charlie takes on a very personal assignment. The body of his beloved friend—a wealthy, admired man in the community—is found near his smashed-up car beside a road that’s notorious for its dangerous curves. The police determine that it was an accident, but Charlie suspects otherwise. His efforts to find evidence to support his gut feeling comprise the book’s action, along with a second case involving a woman in danger from her abusive husband during a contentious divorce. In between these two jobs, Charlie has time to engage in a few steamy bedroom moments, banter with an array of friends and police force frenemies, and swan into his restaurant from time to time to help with bartending duties and chat up the dinner customers.

The book has its shortcomings—one of which ought to be a deal-breaker for a detective mystery: the identity of the who in this whodunnit is obvious early on in the story. Also glaring is the protagonist’s double-occupation, which strains credibility. Somehow, while overseeing a major construction project on his new home, Beach runs a large, profitable restaurant and bar. He also works as a private detective with unpredictable work hours. Anyone who has worked in food service knows that it barely allows time for sleep, much less a demanding second job (and third, if one includes the construction project).

The book would also have benefited from the aid of a disciplined editor who could trim off a healthy chunk of pages and clean up the typos: grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and the occasional missing or misspelled words. Initially the wide and deep array of simple yet effective descriptions are appealing, from restaurant work to golf courses to weapons. Take this passage from early in the book:

Once a swanky hangout […] the Queen Vic was now the kind of place run by people who didn’t ask questions, took only cash and rented rooms by the hour to people with names like Harry Potter and Homer Simpson. Blue Mondays Tavern, with its horseshoe shaped bar, jars of pickled eggs and pepperoni sticks, fight posters, and neon beer signs, the juke box cranking out classic country, occupied the ground floor to the left of the main lobby. The OUT OF ORDER sign had been hanging on the bank of two elevators for decades.

But these lengthy passages are so ubiquitous that they eventually turn detrimental, particularly as the climax approaches. Nearly three-quarters in, the unrelenting parade of details begins to chafe:

At the counter of the Main Street Deli, he ordered a couple of fried egg sandwiches with turkey bacon, cheddar, two slices of avocado, roasted red peppers, and asked the deli girl for a couple of shakes of hot sauce. Charlie took the sandwiches, and a bottle of orange juice outside, and sat on a street bench. One bite into the first sandwich his cellphone chirped. He pressed the centre button on the earbuds remote, and said, ‘Charlie Beach.’

Yet somehow these drawbacks don’t completely overshadow the fun. MacGougan’s enthusiasm in storytelling is infectious, his research impressive, and the journey he invites readers to take are well worth the tramp through the odd editorial muddy spots. His characters, too. A serial small-time crook by the name of Chester Posey, whose brash and unearned bravado is outdone only by his hopeless stupidity, is alone worth the cost of the book. MacGougan clearly plans more titles in this series about his impossibly-gifted protagonist, and—despite THE TEQUILA PROMISE’s problems—this is welcome news for readers who enjoy expansive detective mysteries.

Fast-paced storytelling, a satisfying secondary plot, textured descriptions of places and livelihoods, and an irresistibly entertaining minor character are among the strengths outweighing the warts and shortcomings in John MacGougan’s THE TEQUILA PROMISE.

~Anne Welsbacher for IndieReader

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